Iran is the eighteenth largest country in the world and the 2nd largest one in the Middle East. With an area of 1.6 Million km2, Its area roughly equals to the area of the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany together.
It is located on the Iranian Plateau and as one of the most mountainous countries in the world, Iran is covered by rugged mountain ranges and deserts. While Zagros and Alborz mountain ranges cover the western and northern parts of Iran, the golden deserts of Dasht-e Kavir (The Great Salt Desert) and Dasht-e Lut (The Emptiness Desert) are located on central and eastern sections.
By having dense rain forests in the north, warm sunny beaches in the south, snowy mountains in the west and amazingly hot deserts in the east, Iran is one of the few countries that gives the joy of experiencing four different seasons at the same time to travelers.
Desert is a familiar word for Iranians. As this word, always reminds us of an arid aria with few plants. Where you can hardly find water and the living conditions are intolerable.
The center of Iran consists of several closed basins that collectively are referred to as the Central Plateau. The average elevation of this plateau is about 900 meters (2,953 ft), but several mountains of this plateau exceed 3,000 meters (9,843 ft). The eastern part of the plateau is covered by two salt deserts, the Dasht-e Kavir (Great Salt Desert) and the Dasht-e Lut. Except for some scattered oases, these deserts are uninhabited.
Iranian Kavirs (deserts) have attracted special interest and may be unique in the variety of their composition and surface types. They offer a prospect of desolate waste that extends almost continuously from within 50 km of Tehran to Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.
Dasht-e Lut (Emptiness Desert)
Iran’s geography consists of a plateau surrounded by mountains and divided into drainage basins. Dasht-e Lut is one of the largest of these desert basins, 480 kilometers (300 miles) long and 320 kilometers (200 miles) wide, and also one of the driest and hottest places on Planet Earth! A NASA satellite recorded surface temperatures in the Lut desert of Iran as high as 71 °C (159 °F), the hottest temperature ever recorded on the surface of the Earth. This region which covers an area of about 480 kilometers is called Gandom Beriyan (the toasted wheat). Its surface is wholly matted with black volcano lava.
There are reports that no living creature lives in this region. Dasht-e Lut has an area of about 51,800 square kilometers (20,000 mi²).
Dasht-e Kavir (Great Salt Desert)
Dasht-e Kavir (Central Desert), also known as Kavir-e Namak or Great Salt Desert is a large desert lying in the middle of Iranian Plateau. It is about 800 kilometers (497 mi) long and 320 kilometers (198 mi) wide with a total surface area of about 77,600 km² (~30,000 mi²).
The area of this desert stretches from the south hillside of Alborz mountain range in the north-west to Dasht-e Lut (“Emptiness Desert”) in the south-east and is partitioned between the Iranian provinces of Khorasan, Semnan, Tehran, Isfahan and Yazd. It is named after the salt marshes (Kavir) located there.
The Dasht-e Kavir’s climate is almost rainless and the area is very arid.Temperatures can reach 50 °C in summer, and the average temperature in January is 22 °C. Day and night temperatures during a year can differ up to 70 °C. Rain usually falls in winter. Among the driest places on the planet, it receives an average of only 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) of rain a year. Certain areas of the desert reportedly receive no rain. Extremely barren, the desert contains the only region free from any life, including the existence of bacteria, on Earth!
A yardang (Kalout) is a topographical feature that has been carved out of a surface by the wind. The word is derived from the Turkic word yar, which means ridge or steep bank. On Earth they are most commonly found in deserts where there is a sand supply, which abrades the surface when moved by the wind, and soft sedimentary rocks that the sand easily erodes. Over time, the sand wears down the surface into beautiful streamlined shapes that are aligned with the prevailing sand-moving winds.
Iran is famous for mega yardangs in Shahdad, Kerman, where thousands of tourists visit every year. In the western part of Dasht-e Lut lie some of the world’s most prominent yardangs. Rising up to 282 feet (80 meters), these streamlined ridges have been carved by the wind out of the silty clay and sand lining the desert floor. Lying parallel to the prevailing north-north-west winds, the yardangs are separated by troughs measuring 330 feet (100 meters) or more. The crests or summits of the largest of these yardangs are rounded or flat; all others are narrow.
More than one-tenth of this country is forested. Plentiful rainfall, a mild climate, and a long growing season have combined to create a dense forest of high-quality timber in the Caspian region. There is an extensive growth of temperate-zone hardwoods, including oak, beech, maple, Siberian elm, ash, walnut, ironwood, alder, basswood, and fig. About half of the Caspian forests consists of these trees; the remainder is low-grade scrub. The Zagros Mountains in the west and areas in Khorasan and Fars provinces abound in oak, walnut, and maple trees. Shiraz is renowned for its cypresses.
More than 2,000 plant species are grown in Iran. The land covered by Iran’s natural flora is four times that of the Europe’s.
Nature of Iranian Forests
The Iranian forests belong to the European-Siberian growth region in the Holoarctic. This region includes parts of Europe and Northern Asia. The climate varies from cold to moderately warm weather. From the flora perspective, this region could be divided into the sub-regions of Northern, Atlantic, Central Europe and Pontic.
The Pontic sub-region in the Middle East are represented by Accino-Hircnai Province. This sub-region includes northern Turkey’s mountains, the northern slopes of the Alborz mountains and the coastal areas in its vicinity. This is well adapted for the growth and expansion of forests and its annual rainfall is more than 1,000 mm. A part of this region enjoys summer rainfall as well. The flora of this region consists of 40% European-Siberian species, 22% Mediterranean-European-Siberian and 8% Iranian-Turanian.
One of the most notable features of this region is its suitable environment for those groups of flora that were in danger in Europe at the expansion phase of cold weather in the later years of the Third Period (Newgeon Period). This grouping of flora expanded rapidly in this region and became part of the endemic species. There are other sub-provinces called the Hyrcanica that has less richness, but still enjoys a variety of tree species. It is divided into three groups. One of these groups is the Alnetea Hyrcanica, which includes various species like the forests of the Caspian coastal area.
Iranian forests can be categorized ecologically as consisting of the following biomes:
1. Caspian broadleaf deciduous forests
2. Arasbaranian forests
3. Zagrosian forests
The important species of trees on commercially usable forests are:
- Beech Fagus orientalis
- Hornbeam Carpinus betulus
- Oak Quercus castaneifolia
- Alder Alnus subcordata
- Maple Acer velutinum
- Linden Tilia caucasica
- Persian iron wood Parrotia persica
Forest Distribution and Specifications
The entirety of the southern and southwestern areas as well as parts of the eastern regions of the Gorgan plain is covered with forest, totaling an area of 421,373 ha in 1998. There are three forest parks totaling 1,224 ha and there is 2,930 ha of artificial forests. The total production from these forests is estimated at 269,022 cubic meters.
The total area of the forest in this province is estimated at 965,000 ha which is mainly comprised of broad leaf trees. The forests in the eastern part of the province are connected to the Minoodasht and Golestan forests and are distributed at two major regions, Sari (645,000 ha) and Nowshahr (320,000 ha).
From these forests, 487,195 ha are used commercially, 184,000 ha are protected and the rest are regarded as forest lands or over-used forests. There are 11 forest parks totaling an area of 5,494 ha and 29,877 ha of artificial forests.
There were 567,524 ha of forests in Guilan province in 1998 out of which, the Astara area with about 80,000 ha ranks first in the region. These forests are graded 1-2-3 with an area of 107,894; 182,758 and 211,972 ha respectively.
The area of artificial forests in 1998 was estimated at 1,062 ha, there are also 16 forest parks totaling 5,394 ha, and 5 forest biospheres totaling 2,373 ha.
The commercial and non-commercial utilization is 310,375 cubic meters (184,202 cubic meters for commercial and 126,173 cubic meters for non-commercial use).
According to an estimate made by the Forest and Range Lands Organization, the total area of the Caspian forest in 1963 was 3,420,487 ha . In 1980, a new inventory was made which estimated the total forest area at 1,900,000 ha. During the last 13 years, there has been a continuing degradation of forest area, so much so that today the total area of the Caspian forest is approximately 1,800,000 hectares. If the areas that receive more than 500 mm of precipitation were considered forests, the total area would be about 3,600,000 ha.
In addition to dimensional degradation, the forest’s standing crop or biomass is also being destroyed. Before destructive exploitation, the average biomass of the Caspian forest was about 300 tons per ha. Today the average is less than100 tons per ha. In altitudes lower than 600 meters, the areas have been almost completely cleared of valuable timber. The situation is similar in high altitudes where the inhabitants of sub-alpine pastoral areas have devastated the sub-alpine forests by selective removal and later by complete removal of vegetation.
Geographically, Iran is located in West Asia and borders the Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf, and Caspian Sea. Its mountains have helped to shape both the political and the economic history of the country for several centuries. The mountains enclose several broad basins, or plateaus, on which major agricultural and urban settlements are located. The topography of Iran consists of rugged, mountainous rims surrounding high interior basins.
The main mountain chain is the Zagros Mountains, a series of parallel ridges interspersed with plains that bisect the country from northwest to southeast. Many peaks in the Zagros exceed 3,000 meters (9,843 ft) above sea level, and in the south-central region of the country there are at least five peaks that are over 4,000 meters (13,123 ft).
As the Zagros continue into southeastern Iran, the average elevation of the peaks declines dramatically to under 1,500 meters (4,921 ft). Rimming the Caspian Sea littoral is another chain of mountains, the narrow but high Alborz Mountains. Volcanic Mount Damavand, 5,610 meters (18,406 ft), located in the center of the Alborz, is not only the country’s highest peak but also the highest mountain on the Eurasian landmass west of the Hindu Kush.
Alborz Mountains, also spelled as Albourz, Alburz, Elburz or Elbourz, with a length of 900 km is a major mountain range in northern Iran. Stretching from the borders of Azerbaijan and Armenia in the northwest to the southern end of the Caspian Sea, and ending in the east, near the borders of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.
The term “Alborz Mountains” has been loosely used in reference to all of the mountains of northern Iran. The Alborz Mountains gain their maximum height and density along the southern shores of the Caspian Sea where they create a formidable barrier that separates the coastal plains from the internal plateau of Iran. Close proximity to the Caspian coast has created a steamy lush environment on the coastal plains and the northern-most slopes of the mountains. In some places (near the coastal towns of Ramsar and Noshahr), the strip of land between the mountains and the sea is no more than one kilometer wide.
The southern slopes of the Alborz drop onto the central plateau of Iran. The average elevation of this plateau at the base of the mountains is around 1500 m. In contrast to the lush northern slopes, the southern slopes of the Alborz Mountains are barren. Trees can be found only on stream banks at the bottom of the valleys. Grasslands, alpine tundra and permanent snow cover the higher slopes of the Alborz range. Winter brings a heavy coat of powdery snow, creating an ideal place for skiing. This much snow provides enough fresh water for the nearby cities including the 10 million mega-city of Tehran. The distance between 5671 m Mt. Damavand and Haraz Valley with an altitude of 1000 m in northeast of it, is less than 17 kilometers!
The only peak higher than 5000 m in Iran is Damavand with 5,610 meters (18,406 ft) altitude in center of Alborz range, 70 km from Tehran. Mount Damavand is the result of volcanic activities at the beginning of the quaternary geologic time (Pleistocene stage).
Damavand, like many volcanic mountains has a conic shape which is similar to Fujiyama in Japan.
Although Damavand is an inactive volcano but still produces Sulphur Dioxide. Basically, this means Damavand is going thorough the last stage before completely turning into a silent volcano. However, warm mineral springs, absence of extensive glaciers and frequent earthquakes in every few years, proves there is still a long way to go. Being visible from far distances, makes this isolated, high altitude conic shape volcano spectacular amongst other high mountains in the region.
Damavand region is one of the most beautiful natural surroundings with fields full of wild poppy and purple lily in springs and long grass plots in green moderate summers. Along with hard winters the summit and slopes are always covered by snow.
In Iran’s history, Damavand has always been a symbol of pride and resistance.
The Zagros Mountain range stretches south and west from the borders of Turkey and Iraq to the Persian Gulf, and is Iran’s largest mountain range (but not the highest which are The Alborz), rising in the western half of the country and along the northern border.
The range is about 1500 km (932 miles) long and stretches from northeastern Iraq, to the Strait of Hormuz. Many peaks are higher than 2,987 m. (9800 ft.). The tallest mountain is Zard-Kuh at an elevation of 4,548 m. (14,922 ft.). This range consists of folded mountains made up mostly of limestone and dolomite.
Snow is common in winter, and many peaks have some snow even in summer. The winters are severe, with temperatures often dropping to -18° C (0° F). The Karun and Zayandeh-Rud rivers start in these mountains.
The most common ecosystems are the forest and steppe areas which have a semi-arid temperate climate.
Iran? A dry country covered with mountains and deserts? Whenever somebody talks about Iran, this is usually the first image that comes to mind. However, this is not the whole truth. In northern parts, Iran borders the Caspian Sea, the biggest lake on the planet Earth and in southern sections, it borders the Persian Gulf and the Gulf Of Oman. All through the country, even through high mountains and hot deserts, you can always find fascinating oases, cold & hot springs, whitewater rivers and finally, beautiful lakes and lagoons, lying in a hidden place in peace.
Caspian Sea (Darya-ye Khazar)
The Caspian Sea is the largest lake on our planet and accounts for 40 to 44% of the total lacustrine waters of the world. It is bigger than the Great American Lakes and Lake Victoria in Africa by surface area. The sea has a surface area of 371,000 km² (143,200 sq mi²) and a volume of 78,200 km³ (18,800 cu mi). The 6397 km coastline is shared by Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan. of which more than 900 km is along the Iranian side. About 128 large and small rivers flow into the Caspian Sea from Iran, among them the four largest rivers are: Sepidrud, Shalman, Shafarood, and Tonekâbon.
The Caspian is divided into three distinct physical regions: the Northern, Middle, and Southern Caspian.Water temperature in the Southern Caspian never drops below 13°C degrees in wintertime, and in summertime it is usually increases up to 25° and even 30° C. However, the Caspian Sea is unique not only because of its size but also as it’s distinct from other lakes, the water of the Caspian is not fresh, but brackish. Therefore the highest salinity level reaches 12.7 ppt (about 1/3 of the ocean salinity) during summers.
The southwestern and southern Caspian shores are formed of the sediments of the Länkäran and Gilan-Mazanderan lowlands, with the high peaks of the Talish and Alborz Mountains rearing up close inland.
Wildlife of Caspian sea consists of the Caspian Sea, Caviar fish and many other fishes. The Caspian Seal (Phoca caspica), is the smallest existing varieties of seal which is endemic to the region as well as being the only mammal to live in the Caspian Sea.
Persian Gulf (Khalij-e Fars)
The Persian Gulf located in Western Asia between Iran (Persia) and the Arabian Peninsula is a shallow, epi-continental sea approximately 1,000 km long and 200-350 km wide. With Iran covering most of the northern coast and Saudi Arabia most of the southern coast, the Persian Gulf is about 56 kilometers wide at its narrowest, in the Strait of Hormuz. The waters are overall very shallow, with a maximum depth of 90 meters and an average depth of 50 meters. Basically, the Persian Gulf is an extension of the Indian Ocean with a rate of 37-40% salinity.
The Persian Gulf has many good fishing grounds, extensive coral reefs, and abundant pearl oysters, but its ecology has come been pressure of industrialization, and in particular, oil and petroleum spills during wars in the region.
Persian Gulf is home to many small islands. Geographically the biggest island in the Persian Gulf is Qeshm island located in the Strait of Hormuz and belonging to Iran. With fantastic natural attractions, including Hara sea forests and Stars Valley. Other significant islands in the Persian Gulf include Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Kish administered by Iran.
In recent years, there has also been addition of artificial islands, often created by Arab states such as UAE for commercial reasons or as tourist resorts. Although very small, these artificial islands have had a negative impact on the mangrove habitats upon which they are built, often causing unpredicted environmental issues.
The wildlife of the Persian Gulf is diverse, and entirely unique due to the gulf’s geographic distribution and its isolation from the international waters only breached by the narrow Strait of Hormuz. The Persian Gulf has hosted some of the most magnificent marine fauna and flora, some of which are near extinction or at serious environmental risk. From corals, to dugongs, Persian Gulf is a diverse cradle for many species who depend on each other for survival.
One of the most unique marine mammals living in the Persian Gulf is Dugong, commonly referred to as the “sea cow”. Called “sea cows” for their grazing habits, their mild manner and resemblance to the livestock, dugongs have a life expectancy similar to that of humans and can reach lengths of up to 3 meters. These gentle mammals feed on the sea grass and genetically resemble the land mammals more than the dolphins and the whales.
Coral is another important inhabitant of the Persian Gulf waters. Corals are vital ecosystems that support multitude of marine species, and whose health directly reflects the health of the gulf. Recent years have seen a drastic decline in the coral population in the gulf, partially owing to global warming but majorly due to irresponsible dumping by Arab states like UAE and Bahrain.
The Persian Gulf is also home to over 700 species of fish, most of which are native to the gulf. Of these 700 species, more than 80% are coral reef associated, and directly or indirectly depend on the coral reef for their survival. Overall, the wild life of the Persian Gulf is endangered from both global factors, and regional, local negligence. Most pollution is from ships; land generated pollution counts as the second most common source of pollution, ranging from mercury, to acidic or basic toxins.
Anzali Mordab (lagoon) is situated in the northern Iranian Guilan Province. Its present surface area is estimated at less than 35 km². Apart from being important for finfish and crayfish, Anzali lagoon is also an important bird nesting and wintering habitat, and is an internationally listed protected wetland because of its importance for migratory birds. The situation, as at present, demands clarification of the lagoon’s importance for fish and wildlife, and urgently requires putting forward proposals for the best management measures, which would make possible the optimal use of the lagoon for fish, crayfish and wildlife, while maintaining it as a unique habitat decorated with beautiful Lotus flowers.
Lake Zarivar, also known as Zeribar or Zrewar , is a lake situated in the Iranian province of Kordestan west of Marivanin in western Iran. The name is composed of zrê (“sea”) and the suffix -bar (which in Kurdish means “lake”).
Zarivar Lake has a length of 5 km (3.1 mi) and a maximum width of 1.6 km (0.99 mi). The lake’s water is fresh and has a maximum depth of 6 meters (20 ft). Zeribar Lake is a major touristic attraction in the region. There is a great deal of folklore about the origins of this lake amongst the Kurdish people of the area.